Showdown-Ed Gorman. Электронная библиотека, книги всех жанров
On the sunny morning of October 4, 1886, Deputy Tom Prine saw the man for the third time in three days.
The man was middle-aged, on the beefy side, in a rumpled dark suit that tried hard to make him look respectable. But the broken nose and wary eyes and large, busted hands suggested a rough life lived on the edges of the law.
Prine saw all this from his window table in The Friendly Café, which was half a block down from the sheriff's office. Yesterday, he'd walked past the man, close enough to register various details.
Prine himself was a slender twenty-nine-year-old with an angular face that many women found handsome in a melancholy way.
As evidence of this, Lucy Killane, the freckle-faced redhead with the gentle brown eyes and the sweetly erotic face, said to him now, "D'you know about the band concert tomorrow night, Tom?"
"I saw some posters for it, Lucy."
"I'm planning on going. And you could always stop by for supper early if you wanted to go with me."
Prine wished now that he'd never gone out with her. By the time he started to pull away, after four months of courting, he seemed to have let down not just Lucy but the entire town. She had been orphaned when she was six and raised by the nuns at the convent. They had instilled in her gentleness and a selflessness that never asked for reward of any kind. She just liked helping people, whether at the hospital, the church, the park where the old folks gathered.
Prine had had his share of romances. He'd always felt good about breaking off before he lost control of the situation. Men liked to act tough where females were concerned, but he'd known a lot of men who walked around brokenhearted because of some little gal in some distant town they'd fled to mourn alone.
But with Lucy, it was different. When he saw the pain in her eyes now, he felt no glee, no romantic triumph. Here was a good, true, forthright woman. Not a saint; nor did she pretend to be one. She liked beer and naughty jokes, and on a couple of nights she'd almost given into him completely. But she was an honest and honorable friend and would never desert him. He had put that pain, that mourning, that sorrow in her eyes, and he damned himself for doing it. A lot of his girls had liked the game of love as much as he did. But not Lucy. Her feelings were simple and transparent and deep.
The terrible thing—the thing that had caused him to turn away from her—was that he wanted more. She worked in a café and he was a deputy. Even between them they couldn't earn enough money to live anything more than a hardscrabble life. A tiny shacklike house somewhere. Three or four kids running around. And a sameness—day in and day out—that would be as crushing to him as any prison could ever be.
He'd known a deputy once who'd courted and won the hand of a rich girl. The man now lived in splendor and relative ease. The girl's old man helped him learn the cattle business. And now the former deputy was on his way to becoming cattle-rich himself. Prine never told anybody about this. It'd make him sound like a moony young kid, some stupid magazine-story dream of hitching up with a rich girl. But it was a flame that burned with the tireless brilliance of a votive candle in the most secret part of his heart. He couldn't extinguish that dream even if he wanted to.
He looked up at Lucy now, hovering there, trying to smile with that small, lovely Irish mouth. But there was no smiling to be found in those sweet eyes. Just the terrible loss that Prine had put there.
"Try me again sometime, though," Prine said.
The tears in her voice and eyes were unbearable. He slipped his hand into hers.
"I'm sorry about it all, Lucy."
He glanced around, seeing if anybody was watching. Fortunately, nobody seemed to be. A scene in a café wouldn't be good for either of them.
"I know you are, Tom. I don't blame you."
"Maybe if it was a couple of years down the line, when I was more ready for—"
And then she laughed, a rich sound he'd always loved.
"You don't have to come in here, but you do. You don't have to be nice to me, but you are. You don't have to let me embarrass you, but you do. You're a good Catholic, Tom, and you're not a Catholic at all—but you've sure got the guilt like one."
He smiled, squeezed her hand, then removed his.
"I've got this book I read every night. How to Be Guilty and Like It. It's teaching me a lot."
Her moment of laughter was gone. "I'm thinking of moving, Tom."
"Not because of me, I hope."
A tiny smile. "Not because of you. You're not the center of my universe anymore, Tom Prine. I'm thinking of moving to get meself a better job and meet some new people." She always said "meself" instead of "myself." The last vestiges of a brogue she'd picked up from her long-dead parents.
Prine was surprised by his reaction. He felt—abandoned. It was ludicrous, stupid. He'd broken off with her. But now she was talking about leaving.
Before he could say anything, she said, "There's a customer waving for me, Tom. I'd better go."
Abandoned. Yes, that was exactly how he felt. It was one thing to break it off with her, but another to think that she'd be gone from his life completely. . . .
He went back to studying the man across the street.
What made Prine curious, as he sat there on his midmorning coffee break, was that every morning the man did two odd things. He would suddenly pull out his railroad watch and check the time. And then he would write something in a small notebook he took from his back pocket.
Only this morning did Prine see what spurred the man to take out his pocket watch and tablet. And that was the appearance of Miss Cassie Neville in her fringed buggy. Cassie was the daughter of Cletus Neville, a rich mining man who before his death had divided his estate between Cassie and her twin brother, Richard.
Now, there was an obvious reason for any man to watch Cassie. She was a dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty of grace and style. Twice a year she went to Chicago frock-hunting. And three or four times a year she traveled to St. Louis to hear their famous symphony orchestra. She had been engaged four times and she was only twenty-two years old. Needless to say, it had been Cassie who'd broken off the engagements.
Fine and dandy.
A smitten man, even a middle-aged fool, had every right to place himself in position to watch Cassie as she came to town five days a week to work in the basement of St. Francis Catholic church, where she taught school and handed out provisions to the poor. The Nevilles paid for all the provisions. A lot of townspeople donated clothes and used toys and housewares.
Fine and dandy. To just watch the young beauty in her buggy was one thing. But to clock her and then to write down the time—at the very least, that was a strange thing to do three mornings running.
Prine decided to find out what the man was doing.
Karl Tolan had been in jail enough—never prison; that was his street-boy pride, never prison—to recognize when a lawman came within thirty yards of him. Tolan could sniff one out the same way a hunting dog can sniff out a bird or a fox.
The man sitting in the window of The Friendly Café was definitely law. This was the third morning he'd watched Tolan watch the Neville girl, and this morning—or so Tolan sensed, anyway—the lawman seemed to get a sense of what was going on here.
But the three mornings had been worth it. He had the information he needed.
By the time Prine reached the street, the man was gone. Prine hurried up and down the street, but there was no sight of him.
Five minutes after leaving the café, Prine walked into the sheriff's office. He knew instantly that Mae, the sheriff's spinster daughter, had cleaned up last night. The sweet scent of furniture polish was in the air.